Nia Luchau purrs her way through ‘Captain Louie,’ a streaming children’s musical from Selma Arts Center
Theater people are crafty. If all they have is an empty stage, some chairs and a bunch of old costumes in a trunk, they’ll figure out a way to put on a blockbuster. If a nasty virus shuts down indoor performances, they’ll come up with a plan to connect audiences with as close to a version of live theater as they can.
Pictured above: The masked cast of ‘Captain Louie,’ from left: Jessica Meredith, Nia Luchau, Adam Chavez, Will Bishop, Damen Pardo, Meg Clark and Jacob Moon. Photo: Selma Art Center.
For the folks at Selma Arts Center, that plan comes to fruition this weekend with an intriguing hybrid of stage and film action. Like any live production, the short musical “Captain Louie” has a finite run — just six performances, streaming at 2 and 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29 through Saturday, Oct. 31. (The cost is $15 per viewing; a link will be provided once you purchase a ticket.) And, obviously, it’s a digital experience that you watch on your own, safe computer.
But make no mistake: This is no bland Zoom-style gathering of actors streaming it in from various living rooms. Nor does the production merely plop a camera in the center of the house and let one wide shot run for the duration of one live performance.
Win a free screening of ‘Captain Louie’: It’s time for a Munro Review giveaway! The contest is open to TMR members. Paid monthly memberships and donations help keep this website afloat. A free membership is available. Enter by leaving a comment on this post answering this question: What’s the worst Halloween costume you ever wore? Deadline to enter is 10 a.m. Friday.
Instead, director-choreographer Michael Christopher Flores designed a production that in many ways was shot like a movie. Close-ups, medium shots and wide shots are edited together. Essentially, it is filmed version of a regular theater performance with one important exception: All the actors are masked, and the songs are prerecorded.
It’s a cheery, big-hearted, kid-oriented production with tuneful songs (from Stephen Schwartz of “Wicked” fame) and a cast of seven adult actors portraying a group of likable children. The 45-minute show tells the story of Louie (Will Bishop), a young boy from the inner city whose family moves to a new neighborhood, forcing him to leave his old friends behind.
Actually, not all of the characters are human. Selma Arts Center veteran Nia Luchau plays The Cat. (And she does it in a mask, of course; can you imagine trying to put a mask on a real cat?) I caught up with her via email on the eve of performance.
Q: First and most important question: Are you a cat or a dog person? (And if you are a dog person, does that make you a traitor by taking this role?)
A: I’m definitely more of a dog person! I actually have a small fear of cats that I’m slowly starting to get over.
Q: Also, please answer this once and all: Do cats care about people? Or do they secretly want to wait until we are deep in slumber and scratch our eyes out?
A: I used to think cats wanted to kill us in our sleep but seeing how loving most cats are with their owners has changed my mind.
Q: OK, now that I’ve gotten my obvious pro-dog bias out of the way, can you tell us a bit about yourself? How many Selma shows have you been in?
A: I’ve been in five — now six — Selma Arts Center productions. I went to middle school and high school in Selma. The arts center is truly my home! My favorite show I’ve done with the Selma Arts Center would have to be “Spring Awakening.” That show will always hold a special place in my heart. It was my very first adult show and I made so many friends that are now my best friends! Another one of my favorites would be “Bring It On” because it was my first really big role. I work at Dutch Bros. on Shaw and West avenues in Fresno so you can find me there most days! If you’re into astrology, I’m a Leo sun, Sagittarius moon, and Taurus rising.
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Q: How do you describe the character of Cat?
A: She really follows the gang for the ride and is just always there. Cat belongs to Amy (played by Jessica Meredith) so we’re pretty much always together onstage.
Q: What can you tell us about “Captain Louie” in terms of the production? We’ll be watching you in a digital version, right? How will that work?
A: Yes!! You’ll be seeing it in the comfort of your own home. It’s not going to be your typical recording of a show. I think we filmed for about five or six hours getting every close up, wide shot, etc. It’s going to look really cool!
Q: I was there at the taping and was impressed with how seamlessly director Michael Flores was able to move from scenes that were spoken to the musical numbers. Did you record both the dialogue and the songs beforehand, or was the dialogue live?
A: We prerecorded all of our songs and most of the dialogue that had any underscoring. Everything else you hear is live.
Q: It must be hard to act with a mask. Even in my everyday life, I’ve found it difficult to communicate with other masked people when I have my face covered. Yet you also don’t want to overdo it on stage with body movements that are too exaggerated. What was your acting approach?
A: It was a little difficult in the beginning, but the more we did it at some point we all forgot we were even wearing masks. I was a little worried about acting with a mask because I’m all about facial expressions but I learned throughout this process how to act with my eyes.
Q: We’re all starved for theater, but I know a lot of people are getting tired of Zoom. What’s your pitch for people to watch (and pay for) “Captain Louie”?
A: People should see this show because it has a lot of heart and I truly believe it’s going to be something people of all ages can enjoy. Also it’s Halloween-themed. Who doesn’t love Halloween?
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Q: Looking back on this production in 20 years, what do you think you will most remember?
A: I’ll remember getting to make art with my friends during a difficult time. The laughs, the sweat, the tears, the bruises. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this beautiful 45-minute musical.
Q: Getting back to “Captain Louie,” what is your favorite all-time Halloween costume that you’ve worn? And your least favorite?
A: My favorite costume of all time would have to be when I was about ten years old I dressed up at Fran Fine from The Nanny. My least favorite would be when I dressed up as a whoopie cushion in high school. Not very creative on my part, and it was really hot!
Q: Anything to add?
A: Buy your tickets to see “Captain Louie”!